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February 28, 1996

Altered Fates: Gene Therapy and the Retooling of Human Life

Author Affiliations

Lincoln, Neb

JAMA. 1996;275(8):644-645. doi:10.1001/jama.1996.03530320068041

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In July 1995, a professor specializing in patent law told a National Institutes of Health (NIH) panel on gene therapy that the "growing grubby group of patent seekers" may have gone too far. This statement reflects such events as a California biotechnology company filing patent applications covering more than 100000 partial genes that it has identified. It may also be associated with the NIH effort to patent thousands of human DNA fragments discovered by government researchers. The Clinton administration subsequently withdrew requests for 6869 of these DNA fragments in 1994. The US Patent Office has now declared that one cannot patent human beings or human genes, since they are a phenomenon of nature and not man-made.

If you're curious about the molecular biology, politics, institutional antics, and reality of human nature, Altered Fates is a must on your to-read list. It is written by two Pulitzer Prize—winning journalists for the